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[Report] Hunting to reconnect with their roots

Trois personnes de dos, dont deux adolescents, traquent des orignaux dans la forêt.

Members of the Listuguj First Nation, located on the border between the town of Pointe-à-la-Croix, Quebec, and Campbellton, New Brunswick, Jacob Bernard (foreground) and Ala'suinu Barnaby (center ) participate in a hunting workshop in the ancestral territory of the Mi'gmaq nation.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Paloma Martinez-Mendez

Paloma Martínez Méndez

After being patient and discreet for hours, the team of four teenagers and three adults managed, at nightfall, to kill a young bull moose weighing more than 500 kilograms.

It was a long hunting day, but the autumn sun and gentle wind made the experience most satisfying. Now that the beast has been harvested, it's time for ceremonial thanks and the cleaning and transportation of its carcass.

"Now the real work begins," says 17-year-old Ala'suinu Barnaby, admitting he is already tired.

The Mi'gmaw student from Listuguj First Nation in the Gaspé Peninsula is participating with three other friends in a hunting trip organized by his school, Sugarloaf Senior High School, located a few kilometers from the community in the city of Campbellton, New Brunswick.

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Ala'suinu Barnaby, 17, is one of four young participants in the hunting workshop near the Kegdwick River in New Brunswick.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Paloma Martinez-Mendez

The moose, hunted on a hillside 700 metres from the nearest road, must now be brought down through the forest and brush with whatever means available. The young and not so young hunters must pull the moose with very long ropes operated by an electric pulley attached to two pick-up trucks.

Before starting the descent, a ceremony of purification and gratitude to honor the moose is performed.

  • 1 of 4 : Jacob Bernard and Alanuisu Barnaby perform the moose purification ceremony., Photo: Radio-Canada / Paloma Martinez-Mendez
  • 2 of 4 : Jacob Bernard and Alanuisu Barnaby perform the moose purification ceremony., Photo: Radio-Canada / Paloma Martinez-Mendez
  • 3 of 4 : Jacob Bernard and Alanuisu Barnaby perform the moose purification ceremony., Photo: Radio-Canada / Paloma Martinez-Mendez
  • 4 of 4 : Jacob Bernard and Alanuisu Barnaby perform the moose purification ceremony., Photo: Radio-Canada / Paloma Martinez-Mendez

Jacob Bernard, one of the young participants in the workshop, and Ala'suinu Barnaby are the first to go to the fallen moose.

The two students, who did not seem affected by the cold or out of breath from the climb, shared the ceremonial tasks. One has taken dried sage bundle and a large shell and the other lights the fire. The smoke is respectfully smudged over every part of the animal's body.

I like hunting. It gives me the feeling of being back where I am supposed to be. On a spiritual level, I feel like this is something I've always wanted to do. And when I do it, I want to do it more and more each time.
A quote from Jacob Bernard.
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Jacob Bernard, 17, is participating in this hunting trip for the second time. He is enjoying it and now says he wants to do more and more. For personal interest, he documents the experience with his camera.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Paloma Martinez-Mendez

The young Mi'gmaw says it was Derek Bouge Barnaby, the hunting trip coordinator and an indigenous student worker at his school, who taught him to hunt. But he also learned how to track moose and and fish salmon from his friend Ala'suinu Barnaby, Derek's son and schoolmate.

"I didn't really teach him much," says the young hunter, who confirms that over the past year he and Jacob have spent a lot of time together, fishing and hunting.

"He's gained confidence and I'm looking forward to hunting with him more, that's for sure," says Ala'suinu.

In his case, hunting has always been a part of his life.

With my dad, yes, and with my mom's side. It's very important in both families. It's always been about providing food.
A quote from Ala'suinu Barnaby
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Derek and Ala'suinu Barnaby have shared the experience of hunting together since the teenager was a young child.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Paloma Martinez-Mendez

For Robbie Molley, the story is quite different. The 18-year-old high school senior talks about events in the past that have distanced some families from traditional hunting practices.

He refers to a time when the Mi'gmaq of Listuguj, including his grandparents, were not allowed to hunt or fish Around or away from the community. When they did, it was done in clandestinity, hiding.

It is important for us all to learn the things we were supposed to be taught at a very young age. Some people were lucky enough to start young. But a lot of us don't have families that are really into hunting, because of all the things people went through when they were young. Going back to that way of life, like I am doing, it will be very helpful in the future.
A quote from Robbie Molley
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Robbie Molley, 18, wishes he had started hunting when he was a kid. That's why he particularly values these learning workshops.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Paloma Martinez-Mendez

For many young people in the community, the hunting journey with their classmates is something new.

"Many of them have never hunted. They've never been on the land or in the woods and they've never shot or killed a big animal," says the project coordinator and First Nations student outreach worker at Sugarloaf Senior High School.

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During the long van rides in search of moose, the adolescents use their cameras and binoculars to spot the animals in the forest.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Paloma Martinez-Mendez

Derek Bouge says the purpose of the workshop is to connect these young people to their culture, delicately knitting it together with the threads of their people's ancient language and history.

We try to give them a taste for hunting, an understanding of the territory, the relationship between human beings, animals and the environment. The Mi'gmaw language is based on the environment and around philosophical concepts and understanding of who we are, where we belong, our role and our responsibility as human beings. To other human beings and to animals.
A quote from Derek "Bouge" Barnaby

For this educator and powwow dancer for over 35 years, these learnings lead to a better understanding of the meaning of hunting. 

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From left to right, Ala'suinu Barnaby, Robbie Molley, Jacob Bernard, Tanner Barnaby, and their three adult guides Derek Bouge, Félix Atencio-Gonzales and Ronnie "Lexie" Martin.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Paloma Martinez-Mendez

"Hunting strengthens our attachment to the land, because for 250 years we were not allowed to hunt. It was illegal. Now we have the right to hunt, responsibly," he says. In Derek Bouge's opinion, this hunting trip is a way to give young people tools for life. Once they know how to catch the moose, how to clean it, they know it forever," he says.

We teach students how to call moose, what the moose eat, where they sleep, how they move through the territory. We follow these principles so that children and the younger generation, men and women, can provide for their families and the community. These tools are here to stay.
A quote from Derek "Bouge" Barnaby

The present and the future

During the day's hunt, Tanner Barnaby, one of the four participating students, used his memory and... his smartphone to help the team locate themselves on the land.

Tanner is familiar with the forest where the workshop was held, as this is not his first time participating. In fact, this is the third time he has been part of the group put together by Derek Bouge.

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Young people are also contributing. Their technological knowledge is increasingly useful during the hunting season.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Paloma Martinez-Mendez

His knowledge of the terrain allows him to pinpoint the team's location using the mobile app Snapchat, despite the lack of cell service and data.

[On Snapchat] there's a map on which you can zoom in and see the paths. So it shows you where you are. When we see the moose from a distance, I use our geographic location to try to look for a path to them.
A quote from Tanner Barnaby
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The two elders in the group, Ronnie and Felix, are also very well connected.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Paloma Martinez-Mendez

Recently, Ronnie "Lexie" Martin and Felix Atencio-Gonzales downloaded a geo-location mobile app to their cell phones that allows these two longtime friends to keep a record of all their walks in the woods, as well as many hunting and fishing days spent together.

Felix Atencio-Gonzales says they use apps like Snapchat or GPS because "we are hunting around 150 kms from the community", a land visited mostly during hunting season.

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The two men during a hunting workshop.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Paloma Martinez-Mendez

Ronnie and Felix's presence, while discreet, is essential to the smooth running of the trip, according to Derek Bouge.

I have a lot of respect for Ronnie and Felix. It is very valuable to have the knowledge they bring to our children and to me.
A quote from Derek "Bouge" Barnaby

When Ronnie "Lexie" Martin is asked what he enjoys most about attending these hunting trips, he laughs and says he likes to attend because they always bring lots of food!

This Mi'gmaw elder, always with a smile on his face, takes a serious look to say that he likes being there because it reminds him of his youth when he would walk for hours and hours with his older brothers in search of moose or deer.

When he talks about the students participating in the workshop, he is quite humble. 

You know, some of these kids know more about hunting than we do. They're very good at it.
A quote from  Ronnie Martin
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Mi'gmaw Elder Ronnie "Lexie" Martin accompanies the group at the hunting trip.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Paloma Martinez-Mendez

Félix Atencio-Gonzales adds that in the community of Listuguj, youth receive traditional teachings from several adults throughout their lives, adding that these are not always family members.

Some of these youth have participated in this workshop before, others are interested in hunting because they have had experience with it. But now they have experience with us, which is different. Learning to hunt with Ronnie is different than learning from someone else.
A quote from Félix Atencio-Gonzales

The knowledge transmission from Ronnie to Ala'suinu, Jacob, Robbie, and Tanner was especially obvious at the end of the evening hunt, around 2 a.m. After bringing the moose down the hill, not without difficulty, the group still had to clean it and then hoist it onto the truck.

At the cleaning stage, Ronnie, always discreet, took center stage and, without hesitation, began the job. The young men watched intently as Ronnie's hands made every swift and confident movement.

  • 1 of 3 : After taking the moose down from the hill you have to clean it up. The youngsters closely follow Ronnie "Lexie" Martin's every move., Photo: Radio-Canada / Paloma Martinez-Mendez
  • 2 of 3 : After taking the moose down from the hill you have to clean it up. The youngsters closely follow Ronnie "Lexie" Martin's every move., Photo: Radio-Canada / Paloma Martinez-Mendez
  • 3 of 3 : After taking the moose down from the hill you have to clean it up. The youngsters closely follow Ronnie "Lexie" Martin's every move., Photo: Radio-Canada / Paloma Martinez-Mendez

When asked to express the emotions that the hunting experience brought out in them, the sentences are short but clear.

Ala'suinu says he has mixed feelings. "I don't really feel excited or anything like that. When I come here, I almost take it as a job, I have to provide food. I'm not just here to enjoy the scenery, I'm here to take something home."

For Robbie, this hunting trip is an opportunity to recognize a land that his nation has always been a part of. His emotion is a mixture of serenity and pride. "It's just peaceful to walk through the land and see what is ours. We used to travel this land and it's just nice to be here," he says.

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The team poses, pleased with the work they've done.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Paloma Martinez-Mendez

In Derek Bouge's opinion, the Mi'gmaw language and beliefs shed light on these shared emotions. At the end of all our prayers, we always say Ms't Nogamaq, which means "all my relationships".

It is the bear, moose, deer, rabbit, partridge, berries, sweet grass, and water. Our ancestors have been buried here in the ground for thousands of years. Grasses and trees grow on these soils, animals eat them, and we in turn eat the animals. When we eat the moose, we are in part eating our ancestors.
A quote from Derek Bouge

"It's that relationship that the hunting trip is trying to pass on to the young participants," says Derek Bouge.

"Ms't Nogamaq is a way of expressing gratitude to all those who accompany us on our journey. That includes moose, ancestors and friends."

This report is also available in French (new window) and Spanish.

Paloma Martínez Méndez

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